Steve Bannon has achieved what no one thought possible. He delivered a Senate seat in Alabama to the Democrats ï¿½“ a more meaningful accomplishment than half of the Democrats in the Senate will have in their lifetimes.
On Tuesday night, Roy Moore underperformed President Trump’s 2016 victory in Alabama by about 30 percentage points ï¿½“ a mere 13 months later.
Mr. Moore’s shocking loss was caused by his flawed candidacy, his inability to credibly deny accusations made against him by 30 sources (eight of whom were on the record), and his puzzling disappearance from the campaign trail for the final 11 days of the race.
But the most competitive races in next November’s mid-term elections won’t have the same fundamentals. This campaign was a referendum on Mr. Moore ï¿½“ and he won’t be on the ballot this time next year. If I had to guess, you might find him at the mall.
Part of what made this particular special election so unusual is that both sides had perverse incentives. National Republicans wanted Doug Jones to win. National Democrats wanted Mr. Moore to win.
The GOP was fearful of the damage Mr. Moore would do to their candidates across the country next year. The Democrats wanted to use him against every Republican everywhere. That weapon is now gone.
Perhaps the most lasting effect of Mr. Jones’ stunning victory is what it will mean for the Trump-Bannon relationship.
Mr. Bannon guided Mr. Moore to a primary victory over Mr. Trump’s preferred candidate, appointed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange. But Mr. Strange would have won this week by 15 percent over Mr. Jones.
When the sexual-misconduct accusations against Mr. Moore broke, Mr. Bannon first persuaded Mr. Trump not to call for his withdrawal, and then persuaded him to publicly support Mr. Moore in an effort to drag him across the finish line. Mr. Trump held a rally along the Alabama-Florida border Friday and cut robocalls for Mr. Moore in the final hours. It wasn’t enough.
Will Mr. Trump now stop listening to Mr. Bannon?
He needs to do so if he wants to hold the House and see his job approval rating improve before the midterms.
Mr. Bannon deserves credit for helping Mr. Trump earn his historic presidential election victory. But he has been a disaster in and around the White House.
A president needs competent political advisers ï¿½“ and Mr. Trump needs them now more than ever. It’s time to sideline Mr. Bannon.
Going forward, the GOP needs to more thoroughly vet candidates in important primaries.
The legislative path in the Senate will be more treacherous in January, once Mr. Jones is sworn in. The GOP margin will be 51-49, which means any two GOP senators can block a bill that requires a majority vote.
Mr. Jones’ win also makes it easier for Democrats to retake the Senate majority in 2018, which would have profound legislative consequences for policy and judicial vacancies.
The Alabama loss hurts the GOP on many levels, but the disaster of Mr. Moore in the Senate was averted and that is a silver lining.
The question now: Is what lessons has the White House and the party learned? Can they correct course to finish 2017 strong and go into 2018 more unified and effective?
Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” may be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and at MackOnPolitics.com.
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